Do You Have One? Is It Available?

Do You Have One? Is It Available?

Thanks to Dudley Thompson who loaned his copy to me, I just read Jessica Nutik Zitter's Extreme Measures: Finding a Better Path to the End of Life. This medical doctor, now an "Intensivist," chronicles her journey through the technological fixes of keeping us alive at all costs to the recognition that death is not failure AND can be both planned for and better managed often.

As I read it I was reminded that my wife and I have Advance Directives in several locations. However, they ought to be updated-especially in regard to our health care proxies since we are no longer near those listed. Dr. Zitter admits that she has no Advance Directive (sometimes termed Living Will) because it feels so final to complete the form. True. But the consequences of having nothing on file, and even worse, no conversation about end of life matters with loved ones (as well as physicians and clergy) can make for challenging and stressful situations. I've seen them...

So, have the conversation, again, and make certain the forms are up to date. Take a copy to your doctor; take one to your church; and when you go to the hospital, even for outpatient surgery, take one along. They will ask.

Speaking of end-of-life realities, some souls think so highly of the church that they leave a bequest to their congregation, often undesignated (which is better, often, than designated for something the congregation doesn't prioritize, such as a statue of a favorite preacher). I remember with great fondness a woman who left several thousand dollars to the congregation I served in Oregon. Not only were we surprised but quite appreciative. Knowing her as I did, I knew she would much rather those funds go toward assisting ministry somewhere than beautifying the sanctuary. Since we were in partnership with a congregation in Gingoog City, Mindanao, we used those funds in conjunction with that partnership: we shipped school supplies and other resources, plus we contributed to the pastor's continuing education (she is now a bishop in the United Church of Christ in the Philippines). So, please consider a bequest to your congregation. One caveat: Be specific about the beneficiary. A sad story: I know a congregation which went through a lot of distress over a bequest. A member left $100,000 to The United Church of Christ, as the congregation was known in that community. However, did that person mean that congregation or the denomination? Specificity matters.

For today, tomorrow, and many more to come, stay healthy.

- Rev. Dennis Alger

Meet Rev. Nate Klug

Meet Rev. Nate Klug

Nate pic.png

Rev. Nate Klug

ACC Designated Term Pastor, March 2019

Rev. Nate Klug was born in Minneapolis and grew up outside of Boston. Nate is a 2013 graduate of Yale Divinity School, and he previously served UCC churches in Iowa and Redwood City, California, where he worked for the last two years. Nate treasures parish ministry for the way it brings him into contact with glimpses of God’s grace, from the mundane to the exceptional, every day.

Nate loves to preach, offer pastoral care, lead discussions and studies, and engage with people of all ages. He is especially excited about the opportunity to work with the people of Arlington Community Church to envision a creative future for ministries of community outreach and creation justice, as reflected in the congregation’s Covenant for Life Together.

Besides parish ministry, Nate’s other calling is writing and teaching. He is the author of two books of poetry, and his writing appears in The Nation, The New York Review of Books, and The Best American Poetry 2018. Nate teaches creative writing workshops at the Graduate Theological Union and serves on the board of the Center for the Arts and Religion at the GTU.

Nate is married to Rev. Kit Novotny, an associate minister at First Church Berkeley (UCC). They live in Albany with their seven-month-old daughter, Zoe May, and their terrier, Increase. They love to eat at the Butcher’s Son deli and praise God for the Ohlone Greenway, where they can often be found jogging, riding bikes, or pushing a stroller.

On Sunday January 27, the congregation of Arlington Community Church voted by ballot unanimously to call Rev. Nate Klug to serve ACC as their Designated Term Pastor beginning March 3rd!  

Fallible, Whew!

Fallible, whew!

OK, you caught it.  I misspelled Nathanael not just one but twice; I guess I was consistent.  It might be worthwhile to proof read my “stream of consciousness” style of writing.  Thanks for understanding.

I’m composing this on February 3rd, reflecting on the morning’s service and the closeness it deepened.  Soon I will be elsewhere, but I will remember you with fondness and appreciation.

A couple weeks ago I wrote about Yuval Noah Harari’s 21 Lessons for the 21st Century and I want to highlight more of his wisdom as it reflects part of the morning’s conversation about power.

Truth and power can travel together only so far.  Sooner or later they go their separate paths.  If you want power, at some point you will have to spread fiction.  If you want to know the truth about the world, at some point you will have to renounce power [think Jesus in the wilderness]. You will have to admit things—for example, about the sources of your own power—that will anger allies, dishearten followers, or undermine social harmony.  Scholars throughout history have faced this dilemma: Do they serve power or truth?...

As a species, humans prefer power to truth.  We spend far more time and effort on trying to control the world than on trying to understand it—and even when we try to understand it, we usually do so in the hope that understanding the world will make it easier to control it.  (p. 247)

Later, in discussing ways in which we give power away to technology, and those controlling it, I offer these thoughts for your consideration:

Technology can help you a lot [but] you might become a hostage to its agenda.  Thousands of years ago humans invented agriculture, but this technology enriched just a tiny elite while enslaving the majority… Most people found themselves working from sunrise to sunset plucking weeds, carrying water…, and harvesting…under a blazing sun.  It could happen to you too.

Technology isn’t bad. If you know what you want in life, technology can help you get it.  But if you don’t know what you want…, it will be all too easy for technology to shape your aims…and take over your life.  Especially as technology gets better at understanding humans, you might increasingly find yourself serving it, rather than it serving you.  Have you seen those zombies who roam the streets with their faces glued to their smartphones?  (p. 271)

And then there is this reminder about the radical nature of the faith—from Amos/Micah/Isaiah/Jeremiah and others through John and Jesus to us.  The church must always be “political” in that we challenge the way decisions are made (inside and outside of the church) when those decisions are not benefitting the common good.  Ella Baker, quoted in a recent Sojourners daily devotional (sojo.net), says I use the term radical in its original meaning—getting down to and understanding the root cause.  It means facing a system that does not lend itself to your needs and devising means by which you change that system.  While the church is mandated to speak truth to power in the form of policy/program, we cannot promote candidates. Simple

See you in church (or the place of your choosing; let me know).

 

-        Dennis

Rev. Nate Klug's Sermon Jan 27, 2019

“Interconnected Creation,” Rev. Nate Klug

Arlington Community Church, Jan. 27, 2019

I

Last week, my wife Kit and I brought our daughter Zoe to the Little Farm at Tilden Park, for the very first time. It was Martin Luther King Day afternoon, and the parking lot was swarming with families and young kids. The sun was out, after a week of rain. Everyone was smiling and in a good mood.

And Zoe is only eight months old, so we weren’t sure how she would interact with the cows and the pigs and the goats up close. And truth be told, at first, she was as fascinated with all the other human faces that were around, as she was captivated by the animals! We wandered around for a while. Then we stumbled upon a little girl, just a few years older than Zoe. The girl had a piece of celery in her hand. And she was face to face with an enormous cow.

(It’s amazing how much these animals must get fed on a crowded day at the farm! How many sticks of celery can you eat before you get tired of the flavor?)

And we watched as this girl slowly, warily extended her arm, clutching this stick of celery, like she was giving a precious gift to a king. And we watched as the cows’ big eyes grew even bigger. And it shuffled up in the mud, getting as close as it could to the gate.

And suddenly, out of nowhere, this huge tongue flicked out of the cow’s mouth. As long as the girl’s arm, it seemed. But fast, too, quick as a lizard’s tongue catching a fly. And just like that, the celery was completely gone! And the girl squealed, and she looked down at her arm, half-relieved that it was still there.

And then I looked at my daughter Zoe. And for the first time that day, her eyes were almost as big as that cow’s eyes. She had taken everything in.

In the beautiful psalm that Dennis read for us, the psalmist says, “The heavens are telling the glory of God. The sky proclaims God’s handiwork.” And that’s often true, no doubt.

But sometimes, a child’s perspective reminds us... the ongoing miracle of creation can unfold just as powerfully at eye-level. Right down near the earth. Among the mud and dead leaves and dirty boots.

One thing I love about the season that we’re in, the season of Christmas and Epiphany... is the way it brings together this sky-level glory and this mud-level messiness.

The Savior of the World is born. The king of kings is revealed....But that king comes to us from a manger, from a little shack outdoors, full of mud and hay and farm smells. And when the Magi, the wise men, come from the East to visit the baby Jesus, they bring famous fancy gifts to adore him.

But if you’re ever spent any time in a house or apartment where there’s a newborn baby, you know that gold and spices aren’t exactly the most useful materials to have at hand.

At least that’s been my experience.

No, with these stories of Christmas and Epiphany, it’s like God is reminding us...“Yes, my creation is grand. Yes, my existence is glorious. But more than that, my love is real. It’s real, for you. It’s right down among you, at eye-level. Right there, at your fingertips.”

II

This is the kind of love I’ve experienced in my life as a Christian, as someone who wants to follow Jesus.

It’s what made me start going to church for the first time, back when I was in college, and felt completely lost.  And it’s what made me start thinking about ministry when I graduated. And it’s been the force that I’ve seen in congregations I’ve gotten to work with, in the five years that I’ve been ordained...in rural churches in Iowa, and more urban churches here in the Bay Area. And one thing that this tenacious, muddy love insists on... is that we are all in it together. We’re connected.

That’s exactly the realization I saw written on my daughter’s face, when she watched the older girl feed that cow at Tilden.

Maybe psychologists have a word for this awareness, when it dawns on us!...“That that girl’s hand, and that cow’s tongue, and that green celery grown from the dirt... they’re all part of the same world as me, little Zoe!

And if something were to happen to them, good or bad, it would affect what is happening to me.

And if something were to happen to me, it would affect what is happening to them.” And this principle seems so obvious and basic, once I say it. But the truth is that right now our country, our society, finds itself struggling to live out this inter-connectedness...

Instead of focusing on making healthcare and college more affordable, we have allowed the wealthy to get richer and richer. Instead of welcoming those who are fleeing violence and insecurity, we are trying to increase our borders. Instead of trying to restrict the amount of carbon we’re pouring into the atmosphere, we’re backing out of agreements that will affect our great grandchildren far into the future.

Yes, it sometimes seems like we adults need to re-learn a principle that is basic to the youngest creatures among us on this earth. Of course, we’re in it together! Of course “we are each other’s business,” as the poet Gwendolyn Brooks writes. “We are each other’s harvest, and each other’s bond.”

III

Only twenty years after Jesus died, the apostle Paul wrote the letter to the Corinthians, that we hear in our second Scripture.

I imagine Paul being in a kind of anxious mood, while he wrote it. Because the church in Corinth was already in a bit of trouble! The congregation was only a few decades old, and already challenges and conflicts were emerging.

Here is a bunch of people, Paul must have been thinking, with different backgrounds and different goals.  How the heck are they going to work together? (If you’ve ever wondered this exact thing to yourself, about a community you’ve been part of, you can rest assured you have company! Finding common ground has always been part of the challenge of this life we live together). And so Paul needs to say something, to unify this group. And he chooses this brilliant metaphor of a body.

A church community is like a body, he suggests.

And as he explains in his funny way... if the foot of a body should say, “Because I am not a hand, I don’t belong,” well that wouldn’t make any sense. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I don’t belong,” that wouldn’t make any sense either. No, each part of a community is meant to contribute something different.

And like that little girl’s hand, and like that big cow’s tongue, at Tilden...each part is valuable because it contributes something different.

Think for a minute about your own body.

Think about the way your mind works after you’ve stretched your legs on a good walk. Your thoughts are suddenly clearer, more positive. Or, on the flip side, if you’ve ever had to have surgery, remember how hard it is to retrain one part of your body, when it’s not been exercised.

Putting your shirt on in the morning, eating a bowl cereal...everything can suddenly feel so difficult. And then how good it is when the hard work of rehab starts paying off. And you can move around again, and feel like yourself.

And what Paul is asking us to do today, is to take this same care and awareness we have for our own bodies... and extend it to our communities.

So that when one of us is struggling...if we’ve lost our job, or lost a family member, or just aren’t feeling like ourselves...then all of us are affected.

And when one of us is rejoicing...when we celebrate a big birthday, or have a new grandchild, or start an exciting job...then all of us are rejoicing.

And maybe, just maybe...(and this isn’t Paul, but this is me now).If we can practice this awareness in our communities...then we will model a new way for our society to start thinking about itself.

IV

And one thing I have learned about you already, Arlington Community Church, is that you find this idea of an interconnected creation as inspiring as I do.

I was struck by it the first time I sat down with Linda, Anita, and Ruth. And I heard about your Covenant for Life together. And then I met with the larger Search Committee, and we started to imagine how we might be in relationship... And we figured out the details of my Designated Term.

(And boy, we made sure that we were being thorough, didn’t we?)

And then, back at home, I read the words from the Covenant for Life Together: “We are called to be stewards of creation and to build a just society, based upon the inspiration of our faith.”

So if you vote to call me today...I am here as your Pastor, first, to get to know you all. I am here to listen. (And talk, for a little while, on Sundays!). I’m here to walk with you, through all the ups and downs of life.

And, as we get to know each other, I am also here to wonder with you. I am here to ask some questions -- and to push myself, and all of us, to try to answer them. What new seeds are ready to be planted at Arlington Community Church? Where is God eager to grow with us next? What practices might spring up, as we consider our call to be stewards and builders of a just society?

Because I think the apostle Paul is right.I think that church works, when we find a way to value the differences that exist among each other...When we start to draw energy from the different gifts that each of us can bring.

And when we use that energy, and don’t just keep it to ourselves, but use it to make our part of creation a better place.

--And sometimes, it may get a little messy, like the Little Farm at Tilden Park. There might be moments of frustration. There will certainly be moments of learning, for me.

But there will also be moments of wide-eyed wonder and laugh-out-loud grace.

And there will be plenty of chances to say, “Thank you, God.

I didn’t deserve to be put here, among these beautiful hills, right near this amazing body of water.

Among the creatures of Tilden Park, and the people of Kensington and Richmond and El Cerrito and Berkeley. Who are all part of the same world as me.

I didn’t deserve it. But now that I’m here, how can I reflect your love?”

Hallelujah. Amen.

Observations, Experiences, and Learnings

Observations, Experiences, and Learnings

By now many of you have read my report to you all; it is based upon my observations, experiences, and learnings over these weeks together.  If asked to summarize these reflections, I’d offer two words: transparency and hospitality.  Recently I referenced the passage in chapter 1 of the Fourth Gospel where we read about Jesus calling Nathaniel to discipleship.  Jesus says, “This man is a true Israelite.  There is no guile in him.”  We remember that “guile” means “deceit.”  I noted that Sunday that it is a true reflection of our personal character when others perceive no deceit in us.  So, too, our corporate nature is apprehended.  Made the connection, didn’t you?   

A community of faith becomes an aberration when it slips into deceitful modes of being; integrity and authenticity are rooted in transparency.  And this is of a piece with hospitality, which Jesus demonstrates through the calling of Nathaniel (whose name, if my memory of Hebrew is correct, means God’s gift). 

Is it possible to welcome persons in part by recognizing the gifts of God they embody or manifest among us?  Both Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Kathleen Norris remind us to look deeper and thereby recognize Christ.  Easy for me to say, but we know how complicated relationships are.  Nevertheless…

Several times I have been told about “successful” congregations; they seem to have everything going for them (“So what is our problem?” is the subtext).  Let me disabuse us all of any magic formula.  It may be instructive to do a bit of research, as I did recently via face-to-face, on-site visit with the pastor of an energized congregation in another county.  Clearly this congregation shares challenges not unknown to Arlington, but others look at the entirety of the ministry and are impressed.  Alert: it is good to be impressed, not so empowering to be intimidated.  We need to learn from others.

Here is what I learned, by way of further reflection, the congregation moves ahead with confidence in what they are being called to do by God.  How does this translate to Arlington?  I suggest this community not compare itself to anyone else, yet learn from them.  I further suggest that Arlington “own” its authentic sense of self and use its resources from that place of confidence and conviction.  With Nate’s nurture you will do well in that endeavor.

One last word about hospitality: I plan to open the outside doors to the sanctuary for a while every Sunday morning in order to dissipate the buildup of “fragrances” typical of closed spaces.